On Enjoying The Regular Season, And How The Lakers Make It Really Hard

Apr 11, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace (15) posts up against San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the second half at the AT&T Center. The Lakers won 98-84. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE


On the 3rd day of SpurLakers, my dear friend gave to me: A rosy outlook on regular season basketball that I simply cannot adopt

After spending most of the season bemoaning the schedule-makers' decision to place all of the Spurs vs Lakers games into a tiny window during mid-April, J.R. Wilco of PoundingtheRock and I decided that instead of an epic series of posts leading up to the three games, we'd instead turn the 10 days themselves into an event.

Witness (with all due respect to Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack) the 10 days of SpurLakers.Today is day three, and every day through the final regular season meeting between San Antonio and Los Angeles on Friday the 20th, you'll be treated to another exchange between the two of us. Here's yesterday's precursor, in case you missed it, and remember, tomorrow's ditty will only be available on PTR, so don't be a stranger.

J.R. Wilco:

You talked about how your relationship with Andrew Bynum isn't strong. Do you want to bring me up to speed on that? Now I'm not saying that I have any great love for him myself, nor could I tell you why you should be fonder of him that you are, but I must say that when I hear a Laker fan telling me he's not crazy about LA's best player, I'm pretty curious about it. (Sets bomb down gently. Tiptoes away from it quickly.)

As far as discussing the possibility that the Spurs are not quite as transcendent as I would like them to be, I can tell you that my thoughts and feelings this year have taken quite a turn from the way that I've historically viewed my favorite sports teams in general, and the Spurs specifically. I don't know if it's the fact that I've turned 42 this year, or whether it's the number of championships that San Antonio has won in recent past, or if it's the fact that the core is aging and it seems obvious that they're not going to be able to keep this up forever: regardless of what it is, I've found that I'm enjoying the regular season this year not only more than I ever have before, but also in quite a different way.

Now sure, as fans of teams that have a single measurement for success: winning the championship -- we understand that there's a limit on just how interesting the regular season can be. In fact at PtR we've been calling the playoffs 'the real season' for quite a while now. When rooting for teams like the Spurs and the Lakers, this makes perfect sense. Why get all excited about a few regular-season games (even if they were all consecutive victories) when, if the playoffs aren't successful, it was really all for nothing. And that's been my mindset for quite some time.

But things are different this year. I suppose you could say that I've been stopping to smell the roses. Duncan doesn't put up dominant numbers every night anymore, so when he has a game like he did last night, it's like eating a favorite meal you haven't had in a while, you just appreciate it a bit more. Tony had taken his game and raised it up a notch in Manu's absence, and I realized that I was in the perfect position to enjoy it because, somewhere along the way, I'd finally decided that I wasn't going to waste any more time wishing that Tony Parker were a different kind of point guard than he is. And with Manu being out for so many games -- honestly he doesn't fit on this list because appreciating Manu is something that I'm always able to do at the highest level.

But this dynamic goes beyond just the individual players. The team as a whole and the way they've been playing this year has really been gratifying to take part in. And so the issue of them being a transcendent team – well, I feel a lot less pressure to root for that since I feel like, to me, they already have become that team, regardless of the results.

That's not to say that I don't want them to win like crazy. Not at all. It just means that while I am completely ready to both pour and drink the Kool-Aid (even after I've mixed it up as sickly-sugary-sweet as I ever have) I actually feel somewhat content, at this point of the season, to simply enjoy the ride no matter where it ends up.

So despite how many different pundits expected the Spurs to lose to Memphis last year, regardless of how quirky this year's roster is, no matter how many comparisons can be drawn between the Phoenix Suns of old and the current Spurs: the fact is that the team is what it is. And for right now, I'm alright with that.

Chris:

Allow me to bring you up to speed via links, because I've penned far too many words on Andrew Bynum already. I'm certainly not casting myself as a representative of the rest of my fanbase (though there are certainly plenty of folks who agree with me), but the bottom line is that I'm sick of two things: 1) Fans being hypocritical by thinking ill of players on other teams for reasons that they ignore, or even sometimes celebrate, in players on their own team and 2) People making excuses for people based on age after a time in which (I think) it makes sense to apply the excuses. At 24, nearly 25 years of age, Bynum is not a child, and has been an adult for far too long to write off his antics as some level of immaturity that he can be expected to grow out of. People can change at any age, but Bynum is past the point where age should be any kind of excuse for the stupid things that he's done.

Hearing you describe your relationship to the Spurs the way you did makes me really envious, because you can pretty much word for word say the exact opposite in describing my relationship with the Lakers the past few years. I can't speak for the world, but following the Lakers during the regular season has become almost a chore for me. When I talk about 'the real season', its not in looking for validation of the awesome results that have come before. Instead, its providing myself a goal; if I just stick with this for a few more weeks/months, I'll have the opportunity to follow a team with a legitimate chance to make some noise.

And our opposite reactions make perfect sense. After all, the Spurs have been a beacon of regular season joy the past two seasons, with a team full of guys doing their jobs almost every single night, while the Lakers treat the regular season much as we both think of it, as a 'preseason' which takes place before the playoffs. Basically, except on rare occasions, I don't get the feeling like the Lakers particularly enjoy themselves in the regular season. They'd all be happier going to medical school, or building computers, or playing in basketball games (Kobe, of course, destroys the analogy). Meanwhile, and maybe I'm reading too much into their ability to win so many regular season contests, the Spurs seem to take real pride and enjoyment out of the regular season. In that way, I do think the Spurs are transcendent. Turning the 82 (or in this case, 66) game grind into an experience to be savored is pretty damn awesome. Either I'm too bitter and cynical or entitled or expectant to be able to do the same, or the Lakers regular season exploits literally leave me with less roses to smell.


But I'm a little curious as to how this even happens. After all, balls to the wall regular season results is hardly the style of one Gregg Charles Popovich. Coach is the poster child for not taking the regular season too seriously. There is nobody in the league besides Pop who would dare breakout a DNP-OLD (With Phil Jackson gone, Popovich runs away with the Humor award for NBA Coaches. At this point, he's competing only against himself). He routinely sits his stars from time to time just because. And yet the Spurs keep winning and winning and winning. Compare it with somebody like Tom Thibodeau. Everybody else either suffers from not taking the regular season too seriously, or takes the same season over-seriously (see: Bulls, Chicago) in producing fabulous results. How does Pop manage to play both sides against the middle?

Actually, don't answer that, I don't want to know. With the departure of our team's Jedi, I can not put into words how badly I want to steal yours. I can't think of a single depravity I wouldn't sink to to steal coach Popovich to LA (and I know it wouldn't work, that Pop wouldn't suffer guys like Drew or even Kobe). The Padawan just isn't cutting it.

To be continued tomorrow on Pounding the Rock

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